The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
February 1, 2017

Seeding and spreading innovation to reduce jail use

February 1, 2017

A version of this post was originally published via the Safety and Justice Challenge.

An abiding challenge of US justice reform is decentralizing criminal justice operations. Reforming how we deliver public safety entails changing how thousands of independently operated justice agencies do business. This is true of changing how jails are used, which must be tackled by county and by city. Meeting this challenge is necessary, because current jail use is costly in fiscal impact, unintended harms, and contribution to the racial and ethnic disparities endemic to the American justice system. 

Decentralization’s upside is that it generates innovation. Elected officials, justice and human service professionals, and community leaders are wrestling with how to address crime, victimization, addiction, mental illness, and homelessness while using costly incarceration as sparingly as possible. These local reform thinkers are generating ideas to address these difficult problems and represent an audience eager to consider and adapt innovative solutions designed elsewhere.

The Safety and Justice Challenge is creating a national network that weaves local change efforts into a movement to transform the way jails are used. On February 1, the Safety and Justice Challenge Network, a collaborative of counties, cities, and states modeling and inspiring reforms to create fairer, more-effective local justice systems, expands with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s announcement of 20 jurisdictions participating in the Innovation Fund. Administered by the Urban Institute, the Innovation Fund further enhances the reach of the Challenge Network as it inspires and supports local innovation, experimentation, and peer learning.

The fund sites’ innovations focus on such areas as behavioral health, diversion at the point of arrest, data integration and analysis of jail population drivers, and pretrial release and supervision. Partners include sheriffs, prosecutors, public defenders, police departments, courts, community organizations, researchers, and county and municipal governments. You can find brief descriptions of the Innovation Fund sites and the work they’ll be undertaking here.

Creating change locally can be isolating. Becoming part of a peer network like the Safety and Justice Challenge is energizing. The Innovation Fund sites will draw inspiration from one another and the Challenge Core and Partner Sites. They’ll exchange knowledge, learning from and advising their colleagues’ work.

Rethinking jail nationally takes a broad movement. The 20 Innovation Fund sites are excited to contribute to that movement through the Safety and Justice Challenge.

Visit the Safety and Justice Challenge to learn more.

Inmates work out in the yard at San Quentin prison on September 27, 2016 in San Quentin, California. Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images.

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